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The Space Between: Carsten Nicolai at Pace Wildenstein

Carsten Nicolai "Fades" 2006
Carsten Nicolai, Fades, 2006, multimedia installation (installation view).
static balance
Carsten Nicolai at Pace Wildenstein
534 West 25th St., New York, NY
October 5, 2007 — November 3, 2007

Fuck drugs. Carsten Nicolai has been altering my brain on a cellular level with his sounds for over ten years now. I was well-chuffed when I heard about his exhibition of sound and visuals at Pace Wildenstein on 25th Street. I've read about his installations, but I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing them first hand. His sound work has always reminded me of the vibrant edges of a Jo Baer painting from the 60's or 70's, dealing out perceptual challenges both beautiful and expansive in their simplicity and directness.

In the main room at Pace is static balance, two concave mirror sculptures facing each other, a buzzing pulse emitting from the deepest point of each arc. On walls perpendicular to the mirrors there are two sculptural paintings, static parabol 1 and static parabol 2, accented with horizontal lines. The sound emanating from the mirrors travels directly towards the shared center of the two sculptures, but my ears also noted that it travelled even more efficiently along the mirrored walls. The sound was everywhere, shifting with me as I moved through the space. Coming. Going. The game was on. I was fully in the domain of Carsten Nicolai, a place that is at once precise and full of accident, focused in its execution while maintaining an openness to the viewer/listener.

As I moved around with the sound all the visual possibilities of the piece began to expand. At first I had just enjoyed the funhouse qualities of the reflections, but my attention to the sound led me to a hyper-conscious awareness of the space. I began to notice not just how the mirrors were playing off each other, but how the wall pieces interacted with the mirrors. Eventually the visual and the aural found a shared rhythm. The tension between the still math of the wall pieces and the infinite nature of the mirrors was thrilling. The pulse of sound was like a sturdy hinge, allowing the door of sound and vision to swing steadily back and forth.

The second piece, fades, is a ghostly wonderland (see video). A static drone of white noise provides the foundation for the constantly morphing patterns of light projected onto the far wall of the gallery. The light's path is interrupted and diluted a couple million times by the particles of mist that fill the space between the source and its destination. It's here and not on the wall that the beams of light take on the characteristic of weight at times. The urge to reach up and touch it is almost unbearable. Observing the occasional hand lifting towards the tantalizing mix of matter and non-matter bore out the fact that I wasn't alone in my yearnings. The end of fades feels like this private world folding itself into a corner. It was difficult not to think of Robert Whitman's turning globes that last filled this space. I was drawn into the movement of the luminous disappearing wedges marching to their death, the drone nudging me into the negative infinity of the light: gone.